HL Deb 28 June 1888 vol 327 cc1524-7

My Lords, as your Lordships will remember, in the discussion which took place in your Lordships' House a short time ago on the subject of the defences of Vancouver's Island, Her Majesty's Government stated that, after fully considering the rival positions of Esquimault and Burrard's Inlet, they had, on the advice of their experts, decided to keep the naval headquarters at Esquimault. That being the decision of Her Majesty's Government, I have no wish to say one single word with regard to it, though I regret very much that they came to that decision; but although, My Lords, as that decision has been arrived at, I regard the matter as finally settled. I am sure your Lordships will agree with me that it is of the utmost importance now that it has been definitely arranged that Esquimault is to be the permanent naval headquarters of our Naval Station on the Pacific, and that it is absolutely necessary that no time should be lost in rendering that position thoroughly defended, it being at present absolutely undefended. I am anxious, therefore, to ask Her Majesty's Government a Question of which I have given Notice; but before doing so, there is another point to which I desire to refer for one moment, and it is a point of some importance. It appears that considerable alarm has been produced in the minds of Gentlemen connected with Burrand's Inlet, as the terminus of the Canadian Pacific Railway, at the idea which was conveyed during the discussion to which I have referred, that Burrand's Inlet was not in any way to be protected. The impression was given by that discussion that Burrand's Inlet could not be defended, either from the mainland or from the sea, and that that was one great reason why the Admiralty thought it necessary to keep the naval headquarters at Esquimault. I have received information from a naval officer of very high standing, connected with the locality, showing that from the mainland it would be very easy to defend Burrand's Inlet, as the attacking force would have to cross three rivers and an impenetrable forest. I hope my noble Friend when he comes to answer my Question will be able to say that when Esquimault has been fortified the Admiralty, or Her Majesty's Government, will consider the advisability of placing some guns at the entrance to Burrand's Inlet, so that it may also be protected from the sea in the event of hostile ships passing Esquimault and coming up to attack it. I beg to ask Her Majesty's Government, What arrangements have been made with the Dominion Government of Canada for the defence of the naval headquarters in the Pacific, Esquimault Harbour; and if the plans for the fortifications and defences have been finished, when the works will be commenced, and when the armaments will be sent out; and, whether the Government will state by what date the fortifications will be completed and the guns placed in position?


My Lords, in reply to the Question which appears on the Paper, I have to inform the noble Lord that no arrangements have been actually made with the Dominion Government of Canada, but that arrangements have been proposed for the defence of Esquimault, as was stated in your Lordships' House on Juno the 12th, and have been communicated to the Dominion Government by me on the 13th of June. On learning from the Dominion Government that they assent to the arrangements, with or without any alteration of details, Her Majesty's Government will then be in a position to immediately proceed with the works that are contemplated, and HO time will be lost. I may say that the guns and such further armaments as are to be provided from this country are in a very forward state at present, and there will be no delay on that score. Therefore, that answer really covers the whole of the noble Lord's question. Before, of course, the plans for the fortifications and defences have been finished here, no works can be commenced, and no further steps will be taken until we receive the answer of the Dominion Government. As regards the point the noble Lord last referred to, I think that those who are afraid for the safety to Burrand's Inlet may rest tolerably well at ease, considering what was stated on June the 12th by the noble Lords who then spoke, and by the opinion which I have stated to the Dominion Government, an opinion which received the concurrence of both the Naval and Military Departments. Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to read in support of this view, one passage from the despatch which I then forwarded to the Dominion Government— It will be observed that the proposed scheme of defence has been drawn up more especially with a view to the direct defence of the harbour of Esquimault; protection is, however, at the same time conferred upon the town of Victoria. When Esquimault has been made into a strong naval base, the danger of attempting a bombardment of Victoria, which would be fruitless of all real military result, becomes so great as to render such a measure highly improbable. And then comes the part which will especially interest the noble Lord— For similar reasons any hostile operations, directed against Burrard's Inlet and Nanaimo, need hardly be anticipated. No naval commander would be likely to risk his vessels in the somewhat intricate navigation and the prevalent fogs which characterize the How Straits, leaving in his rear the strong strategic position of Esquimault, serving as the fortified base of Her Majesty's Pacific Squadron. With regard to any fortifications by land, that also will receive careful consideration, but not at the present time. There is no necessity at present for strengthening the land fortifications of that part.

House adjourned at a quarter before Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Ten o'clock.